Spousal abuse, sex abuse, any kind of abuse at all should be a major no-no in any society. The guilty perpetrators should be locked away where the sun doesn’t shine and never heard from again. But, what of those who knew about it and did nothing? What level is their guilt? And, what about those who know about it and do exactly what their responsibility calls for?

That is what this column is about. The current headlines are about Urban Meyer, three-time national champion football coach, at Ohio State. A few years back it was Penn State-icon, Joe Paterno. Both knew of abuses taking place and both were caught in the line of fire by what they knew and what they did with that knowledge.

I have no inside information regarding the details of what happened in either situation. As was true with the Paterno case, we will find out more as time passes and investigations play out at Ohio State. What I do know is that universities, in fact all colleges, have a protocol regarding such situations. In this time of Title IX women’s issues and Olympic Gymnastic scandals, every institution has a protocol that dictates what an individual who has knowledge of an abusive situation is to do when he/she learns of such a situation.

Urban Meyer was quoted by one newspaper as saying, “I followed protocol in this situation.” He is saying that he did as his university required by reporting it to his superiors. In short, he was not in violation of what he had been directed to do. One might criticize his not reporting it to the police. One might criticize his not firing the offending assistant coach. One might even criticize the written protocol of the university. However, the offending party was under contract to the university not to Urban Meyer. Provisions of the person’s contract are important in such a situation. Personnel policies of the institution that protect the privacy and rights of the individual must be observed. To do otherwise is to risk major legal issues down the road.

Whether it is Joe Paterno or Urban Meyer, the dilemma for the coach is the same. Shall he do what the university’s protocol requires, what his contract requires, or something else? Today it is Urban Meyer twisting in the wind. Just a few short years ago it was Joe Paterno. In this situation I readily admit to being a Paterno and Meyer defender.

Here are a series of questions for those who believe either man was responsible for, or complicit in either scandal. Had the coach gone to the police with the information told to him by someone else, wouldn’t that have been second hand, hearsay, gossip? Wouldn’t the coach and the university have been liable for slander charges if the coach’s word couldn’t be substantiated? Wasn’t the proper thing to do to share the information with his athletic director and to urge any eyewitness to report it to the university authorities? Then, the university’s investigative mechanism could work through the situation to find the truth and to take proper action.

Newspaper reports indicate that both coaches made sure the next level of university administration had the potentially incriminating information. If the ball was dropped it was dropped further up the administrative chain. In both cases the end result is a scandal of gigantic proportions, one that has a celebrated coach in its crosshairs and one that is not yet over.

By almost any standard Urban Meyer is an outstanding football coach, like Joe Paterno was. He is also an outstanding representative for college athletics, and a fine man. To have his many achievements tainted by events that he did not initiate, was not complicit in, and was not guilty of in any way is, indeed, tragic.

He deserves better.
— You can reach Dr. Mark L. Hopkins at presnet@presnet.net. Books by Hopkins, “Journey to Gettysburg, The Wounds of War, The World as it was When Jesus Came,” and “Facts & Opinions on the Issues of our Time,” can be acquired at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and through the E-mail above.